Posts filed under 'South Africa'

1927: Huibrecht Jacob de Leeuw, dynamiter

1 comment September 30th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1927, Huibrecht Jacob de Leeuw was hanged for blowing up the mayor of Dewetsdorp, South Africa.

This 26-year-old town clerk had spent himself into debt and started dipping his beak in the public finances to tide him over. Unfortunately for him, the malfeasance was detected.

On April 7, 1927, Mayor von Maltitz openly accused him of corruption at a meeting with the town’s finance committee; the session was adjourned for lunch pending the apparently imminent sack of the young wastrel.

When the committee reconvened (less de Leeuw), it was suddenly blown to smithereens by an explosion.

All three died, but two survived long enough to tell investigators what they’d been working on. As Robin Odell observes in his Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes,

De Leeuw had succeeded in destroying his accusers, along with the damning evidence of the account books but was now a prime murder suspect. He was sent for trial at Bloemfontein in August 1927. A town hall employee testified that he saw two cans of petrol in the town clerk’s office on the day of the explosion. And a local shopkeeper described how de Leeuw had appeared in her shop that afternoon in an agitated state saying, “I only want some matches.”

Clearly, what de Leeuw’s crime packed in megajoules it lacked in subtlety. Even had he made clean kills and left no deathbed implications, it’s hard to imagine how the trail wouldn’t have led right back to the guy who was just in the room with all the victims.

There’s a chapter on this fellow (more words than this author has found for him anywhere else) in a long-out-of-print 1951 South African volume, The Evil that Men Do, by Benjamin Bennett.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,South Africa

Tags: , , , , , ,

1987: Moses Jantjies and Wellington Mielies, after the Langa massacre

Add comment September 1st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1987, Moses Jantjies and Wellington Mielies — “political prisoners” in the estimation of their supporters — hanged along with five common criminals at Pretoria for the murder of Ben Kinikini and five others.*

The killing of Kinikini occurred in an environment of bitterly escalating hostilities in the eastern cape city of Uitenhage and especially the KwaNobuhle township. Anti-apartheid school boycotts dating back to September 1984 (part of a spreading revolt in the townships at that time) had metastasized into violent confrontations when protesters were denied meeting space by the black KwaNobuhle councillors.

Kinikini was such a councillor, and he and the others had been under popular pressure to resign, and even had their homes stoned, since the last weeks of 1984.

Protesters stoned vehicles. Riot squads roamed the streets. Police shootings became everyday events, and more enraged crowds gathered at the resulting funerals of their victims.**

On March 21, 1985,† police opened fire on one such funeral procession, slaying some 20 people in a single go — the Langa Massacre.


Coffins of the Langa Massacre’s victims. (cc) image from United Nations Photo Library. Also see this, this, this and this.

And then it really hit the fan.

Riots erupted following the Langa massacre, and it was on March 23 that Kinikini was dragged from his house and murdered: black township councillors were liable to be seen as apartheid collaborators. Defense witnesses for Jantjies and Mielies were quite a bit more specific, slating Kinikini with direct links to murderous vigilantes who liked to beat up and rape protesters in the creepy privacy of Kinikini’s apt personal business, a mortuary.

And as one memoir of the period puts it, “the government knew black councillors would not participate in a democratic charade unless their lives and property were protected and avenged. Some two and a half thousand black councillors, policemen and informers, real and rumoured, had been killed in the unrest that had begun in 1984.”

For South African president and white-rule stalwart P.W. Botha, those were far more pressing constituencies than mercy appeals from usual suspects like black activists and the West German government. These were also the first two township-rising convicts to come up for execution, out of some 33 then on death row, so their treatment figured to set the precedent for even higher-profile cases on the horizon like the Sharpeville Six. (In the event, apartheid collapsed before the Six could actually be hanged.)

The message was hardly lost on its internal audience.

“We have come to terms with the fact that the enemy has declared war,” Winnie Mandela told a Johanessburg memorial service for Jantjies and Mielies hanged. “We accept the challenge. The blood of the comrades has not flowed in vain.”

* Ben Kinikini, his four sons and nephews, and one other person were stabbed and burned to death. Some reports term at least Ben Kinikini’s killing a “necklacing” — the brutal method of popular execution that arose in the 1980s in which the “jewelry” was a rubber tire filled with flaming petrol. It sounds from the widow’s secondhand description as if this could indeed characterize it, though the fact that the Truth and Reconcilation Commission called a July 1985 killing the country’s first necklacing might indicate otherwise. News stories suggest that photographs and video exist of, if not the murder, at least the aftermath: perhaps these are dispositive on the point.

** See Thole Majodina, “A Short Background to the Shooting Incident in Langa Township, Uitenhage,” Human Rights Quarterly, August 1986.

† March 21 also happened to be the very anniversary date of one of apartheid South Africa’s most infamous police atrocities, the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. Thanks to Sharpeville, this first day of spring is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as well as the date on which South Africa marks Human Rights Day.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,South Africa

Tags: , , , , , ,

1902: Gideon Scheepers, Boer guerrilla

6 comments January 18th, 2012 Headsman

Scheepers lives because they shot him.”

-Hermi Baartman, Graaf-Reinet Museum

On this date in 1902, Kommandant Gideon Jacobus Scheepers was shot by the British for his exploits in the Boer War.

The young Dutch-descended Scheepers (here’s his Afrikaans Wikipedia page) was a soldier from the still-independent Boer states which were being reduced in this war to British dependencies.

In 1901, late in the proceedings, Scheepers took a column of irregulars into the British Eastern Cape Province and wrought havoc behind the lines. Some exploits are the stuff of legend, like the time he rode into a town, released all the Boer prisoners, locked up the British magistrate, and hauled down the Union Jack — to the delight of the Boer locals.

He would spend that year giving the British much better than he got, but the war was also infamously dirty.

According to David Harrison’s The White Tribe of Africa: South Africa in Perspective, “Scheeepers’ men also flogged and shot natives who helped the British, looted as well as burned farms, and executed Boer ‘traitors’.”

Was any of that criminal?

Since Scheepers was over enemy lines, the Boers who joined him could be held liable for treason … but that didn’t hold for Scheepers himself. His execution turned on holding these unsavory acts as war crimes: his 30-count charge sheet included seven arsons, seven murders, and various and sundry abuses of prisoners and blacks. Scheepers was really sore about the last; natives were supposed to be kept out of the fighting, but the prisoner very credibly insisted that the ones he “murdered” were under arms as scouts for the British.

“We Afrikaners will never find justice under the English,” Scheepers wrote as a prisoner. “Everything is for the kaffirs.”

(There’s a vociferous defense of Scheepers from a pro-Boer history here, and a more sober one by a London press correspondent here.)


Scheepers is read the death warrant on January 17, 1902 — before Graaf-Reinet townspeople assembled by British orders.

For non-Loyalist Boers and for many throughout the world — the U.S. House of Representatives even moved a resolution calling for Scheepers to be accorded POW status according to the Geneva Convention — it smacked of a setup.


Gideon Scheepers (mostly obscured by his guards) tied to a chair for execution.


Just shot, Gideon Scheepers slumps backward in his chair.

While martyrdom guaranteed Scheepers a lasting legacy, bizarre posthumous turns helped elevate it into legend. When the dead man’s family turned up after hostilities to retrieve his bones, the grave turned out empty, leading to a years-long saga with colorful frauds presenting bogus remains, a mentally ill man doing the Grand Duchess Anastasia act and claiming to be Scheepers, and the actual corpse remaining stubbornly elusive.

The bereaved mother’s ultimately fruitless search for her son’s final resting place inspired the poem “Gebed om die Gebeente”(“Prayer for the Bones”), by D.J. Opperman. (Here’s a translated version.) That verse was recently set to music as a cantata by composer Hendrik Hofmeyr.

Scheepers’ allies, however, had simply been beaten in the field. On May 31, 1902 they capitulated to the British.

If we are asked why in 1978 a memorial should be erected for a man who died in 1902, then the answer is simple. The life and work of this man was such that history placed him in the heroes’ gallery and nothing and no one can deprive him of that place.

-Nationalist Prime Minister John Vorster upon the unveiling of a Scheepers monument

This interesting “On the Trail of Gideon Scheepers” series has a detailed and richly illustrated narrative of the man’s final year.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Mature Content,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Separatists,Shot,Soldiers,South Africa,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1960: Phineas Tshitaundzi, the panga man

4 comments November 14th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1960, South Africa conducted a mass execution of 15 miscellaneous criminals (14 black, one white) in Pretoria Prison.

The headline attraction was one of the 14 blacks: Phineas Tshitaundzi, the “panga man” or any number of related headline-worthy nicknames — the panga slasher, the panga maniac. (“Panga man” can also just be any old fellow with a panga, like an agricultural worker.)

A panga is a machete, and Phineas Tshitaundzi wielded this intimidating instrument during a 1950s spree terrorizing white lovers’ lanes around Johannesburg. “He would assault the men and rape the women — to whom, it was said, he then gave bus fare home,” wrote Jean and John Comaroff in Law and Disorder in the Postcolony.* “There could hardly have been a more intense figuration of the dark, erotically charged menace that stalked the cities in the white imagination.”

The assaults were non-fatal — panga man was the only one of the 14 blacks hanged this day not on the hook for murder — but the many survivors whose affairs were on the illicit side had injuries to cope with beyond those inflicted by the blade.

Tshitaundzi was finally caught as a result of fencing some of the proceeds of his crimes, whereupon it transpired that the terrifying perpetrator had been so difficult to capture because he’d been working as a mild-mannered 40-year-old “tea boy” at police headquarters itself, a position that allowed him to stay wise to various attempts to ensnare him.

The terrible “panga man” was installed in a kitschy exhibit in the police museum opened by his employes turned captors.

* The full chapter from this anthology can be read in pdf form here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Serial Killers,South Africa,Theft

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1985: Benjamin Moloise, revolutionary poet

3 comments October 18th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1985, poet Benjamin Moloise was hanged in Pretoria for murdering a (black) policeman in apartheid South Africa.

Moloise’s controversial execution occurred in the context of violent resistance to apartheid in South Africa’s black townships and an ultimately fatal crisis for the apartheid state.

The black majority, long treated as second-class citizens by the white powers-that-be, turned to increasingly confrontational tactics aiming to break official power at the township level. Attacks on black officials and police officers who administered state authority at that level were part and parcel.

Moloise was convicted in a plot to kill such an officer in 1983. (The African National Congress claimed responsibility for the killing, and said that Moloise wasn’t involved.)

His hanging approached as the township rising grew into a mass movement that the hardline government of P.W. Botha answered mostly with force* — so, little surprise that Botha spurned both American and Soviet entreaties not to hang Moloise and little surprise that the execution further escalated racial violence.

Furious black protesters rioted in downtown Johannesburg itself, which (like much of white South Africa) had theretofore remained mostly immune to the violence gripping the townships. Here’s a French news report on Moloise’s execution and its aftermath.

All of which dovetailed with a dramatic fall in South Africa’s international position, vividly symbolized by the months-long collapse of the rand — which bled about three-quarters of its value in 1985. International outrage at the blood shed to enforce South Africa’s color line subjected it to a cascade of diplomatic and economic sanctions in the mid-1980s.

Apartheid went out with the Cold War at the end of the decade — vindicating Moloise’s poetic final message, subsequently a staple message at anti-apartheid rallies.

I am proud to be what I am …
The storm of oppression will be followed
By the rain of my blood

I am proud to give my life

My one solitary life.

* It had implemented a state of emergency that very summer. At the same time, Botha pursued tweaks around the edges of apartheid to preserve it: weeding out “petty apartheid” provocations like whites-only/coloreds-only facilities, and implementing a new constitution with a tricameral, race-based parliament.

Part of the Themed Set: Illegitimate Power.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,South Africa,Terrorists

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1816: Five Boers for the Slachter’s Nek Rebellion

Add comment March 9th, 2011 Headsman

“All those who know anything of the history of South Africa,” writes Ian Colvin, “have heard of Slachter’s Nek. (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Afrikaans)

“The very name has something of evil omen about it, and it is the gallows-tree on which the ravens of discord have sat and croaked ever since the five rebels were hanged in the memorable year of Waterloo.”

You’ve got to admit that a place like “Slachter’s Nek” (or Slagtersnek) definitely ought to be associated with a hanging. Luckily for this site, it is.

Though subsequently a grievance for the Dutch-descended Boers — a monument was erected in the hanged men’s honor on the centennial of their execution — this particular evil omen barely even registered when it came to British colonial disturbances.

A farmer, one Frederik Bezuidenhout, started the trouble by defying an order to appear in court for his maltreatment of a native; the Brits hunted him to a cave and killed him in a shootout.

This led to a very slightly wider spasm of resistance which one could very generously account “Quixotic”: a few dozen other Afrikaner farmers bent on driving out the “tyrants”, most of whom wisely threw in the towel when the tyrants’ military showed the colors. (With the literal boots-on-the-ground support of the colony’s preponderance of Dutch burghers.)

Thirty-nine stood trial, with a half-dozen death sentences meted out. In defiance of a widespread expectation of clemency, only one was spared.

Four of the five hanging ropes broke. Still no reprieve: fresh nooses were procured.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Africa

Tags: , , , , ,

1714: Various rebel slaves in the Cape Colony

1 comment February 7th, 2011 Headsman

This site has previously noticed a milestone 1714 execution in the Dutch Cape Colony of South Africa.

That execution of a black slave and his white lover was exceptional — and, of course, the chronicles of the Cape are replete with less exceptional fare, the humdrum penal brutality of an 18th century colony disposed of in a sentence of two between reports of smallpox outbreaks, price fluctuations, the transit of slave ships, and all the other business of frontier life.

A slave condemned to be burnt alive for arson; another to be hanged for theft … Two white men hanged for desertion, sheep-stealing, and attempt to murder … A Javanese “Guru” sentenced to death for instigating slaves to run away, harbouring and arming them … Matthys of Ternate punished for running away and cattle theft, &c. Sentenced to be hanged … A slave hanged for breaking into the house of Lieutenant Captain Slotsboo … Five slaves sentenced to be broken, and a female slave to be scourged … Two soldiers sentenced to run the gantlope …

And so on.

This date marks a number of such executions for a minor slave revolt (incidents of slave insubordination also pepper the Colony records). At three full entries in the chronicle, 16 implicated slaves, and some spectacularly savage punishments, it must have been one of the more noteworthy of its day; what the colonial register leaves us is just enough to suggest the forgotten suffering and resistance of the half-nameless chattel of yesteryear.

1714.

January 7 — Some 16 fugitive slaves who had conspired, armed themselves, and did much mischief. They resisted the officers of justice, shot a soldier, and murdered a Hottentot woman. They were now brought up for examination.

February 7 — The sentences passed on the fugitive slaves, and the whole history of the case. “Tromp” to be empaled alive, and to remain in that position till he dies. “Cupido” to be put on a cross, his right hand to be cut off, and with “Neptunus” to be broken on the wheel, and then to be left on a hurdle until dead. “Titus” to be broken with the coup de grace. Jeroon and Thomas to be hanged; three others to be scourged and have their right heels cut off. The eleventh prisoner is merely to look on, and afterwards to be sent home; paying the costs however.

February 8 — The empaled convict found strangled in the morning. He had received some linen from a kind friend during the night for the purpose. He would otherwise have been still alive.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Crucifixion,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Impaled,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,South Africa,Torture

Tags: , , , ,

1922: C.C. Stassen, white miner

2 comments October 5th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1922, white miner Carel Christian Stassen was hanged in South Africa for murdering two blacks during the recent Rand Rising.

Also known as the Rand Rebellion or Rand Revolt, this rising saw a strike by white miners transmuted into outright insurrection … before being ruthlessly suppressed.

This seminal event in 20th century South Africa is also a classic study in the indeterminate solidarity of race and class, and would help set the stage for the apartheid system to come.

In the years preceding the Rand Revolt, an aristocracy of skilled white miners found itself, er, undermined by the sinking price of gold and the vast pool of underpaid black miners who had long been consigned to strictly unskilled jobs.

When white miners went on strike as the calendar turned to 1922, it was — self-consciously — in defense of white privilege: specifically, a color bar protecting white semi-skilled positions from black competition which white mine owners intended to breach.

In a context where the vast majority of mine workers overall were black, the strikers rallied under the banner,

“Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa!”


Note the sign in the lower left with the racialized twist that old labor slogan.

Inspiring stuff.

The strike’s peculiar dynamics bear all manner of historical inquiry. In its opening months, South Africa’s native black laborers were entirely left out, neither engaged as potential allies (obviously) nor targeted as “scabs” or enemies (more surprisingly).

But this just-among-whites dispute broke out of the family around March 7-9 when — on the very eve of military conflict with Jan Smuts‘ government — rumors swept the white strikers’ communities “that the natives were fighting the Whites … and that the Strikers and Police were working in conjunction to suppress the natives,” that “the kaffirs will kill us all.”

The quotes are actual period citations given in Jeremy Krikler’s 1999 article “The Inner Mechanics of a South African Racial Massacre,” in The History Journal, Dec. 1999. Krikler’s subsequent book, White Rising: The 1922 Insurrection and Racial Killing in South Africa, explores this topic in much greater detail.

In Richard Seymour’s summary,

they took their appeal to be part of the white community seriously, and in their murders dramatised their desire to be in solidarity with the institutions of white supremacy that were about to massacre them: it was as if to re-direct the fire onto the ‘real’ menace, as opposed to the respectable white workers who only wanted their fair share.

C.C. Stassen was one of those conducting dramatic murder — in his case, of two natives in what Stassen insisted was self-defense against an aggressive black mob.

As one can discern from his presence in these pages, however, Stassen’s homicides did not arouse a sentiment of solidarity among the country’s owners. Shortly after crushing the revolt in March (around 200 people died) they gave notice of their preference for class consciousness above race consciousness, hanging Stassen over the objections of labor unions in South Africa and abroad.

The legacy of the Rand Rising and the hangings of Stassen and others was the Pact Government, an alliance of white miners and Afrikaans farmers that ousted Smuts in a 1924 election.

Even though this new state arrangement proceeded to firm up race privilege in the mining sector with the piquantly named “Colour Bar Act”,* it did so on the basis of the victors’ terms established by the Rand Revolt.

The Pact Government … … ensure[d] that skilled work on the mines remained the preserve of whites, [but] it made no attempt to reverse what the mine owners had achieved: the expulsion of whites from a range of semi-skilled occupations … White wages fell markedly and labour militancy was terminated. The Rand — site of enormous battles in the early twentieth century — never again saw a significant white mineworkers’ strike. The curtain came down upon an epoch of white labour. Whatever revolutionary tradition it had had, was rooted out forever.

White Rising

* The National Party that enacted the Colour Bar Act would, when it next controlled the government in 1948, establish apartheid.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,South Africa

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1714: Maria Mouton and her slave Titus, lovers

1 comment September 1st, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1714, a slave and his mistress — “mistress” in both senses of the word — were put to death in the Dutch Cape Colony for murdering her husband.

Marie or Maria Mouton had arrived in South Africa in 1699 as a nine-year-old with a refugee Huguenot family.

A decade and a half’s passage finds her a young woman wed to one Franz or Frans Joost/Jooste/Joostens, to whom she bore two sons … and, evidently, a homicidal grudge.

Early in 1714, Maria and her lover, a slave named Titus Bengale, murdered Frans, in consequence of which crime,

[s]he [Maria] is sentenced to be half strangled, after that to be scorched,* and after that strangled unto death. Titus to be empaled and to remain so, until death. After that his head and right hand are to be cut off and fixed on a pole, beyond the limits of his late master’s property. Fortuin, an accomplice, is also to have his right hand cut off, and without receiving the coup de grace, is to be broken on the wheel. After that he is to be placed on a grating until death takes place. After that his head is to be cut off, and with his hand placed on a pole, together with the head and hand of Titus. After that the bodies are to be taken to the outside place of execution, and there left exposed to the air and the vultures.

She’s the only white woman to be executed in 18th century South Africa.

Our Precise of the Archives of the Cape of Good Hope** notices that Titus, despite enduring his grotesque execution for two full days before succumbing, remained terribly jocund amid his public torture. (Not unlike other slaves tortured to death in Dutch colonies):

September 3 — The slave Titus, above mentioned, died about midday, having lived in his misery about 48 hours; something horrible to think of, to say nothing of personally beholding the misery. It is said that 4 hours after his empalement he received a bottle of arrack from which he drank freely and heartily. When advised not to take too much, lest he should get drunk, he answered that it did not matter, as he sat fast enough, and that there was no fear of his falling. It is true that whilst sitting in that deplorable state, he often joked, and scoffingly said that he would never again believe a woman. A way of dying, lauded by the Romans, but damnable among the Christians.

This case is discussed in more detail by Nigel Penn in “The wife, the farmer and the farmer’s slaves: adultery and murder on a frontier farm in the early eighteenth century Cape,” Kronos, vol. 28 (2002) — here’s an excerpt — and by the same author in Rogues, Rebels and Runaways: Eighteenth-Century Cape Characters.

* Literally, blaker. “To ‘blaker’ someone,” notes Nigel Penn in “The wife, the farmer and the farmer’s slaves: adultery and murder on a frontier farm in the early eighteenth century Cape,” Kronos, vol. 28 (2002), “was to hold burning straw to their face and to blacken it … a reference to the earlier practice of burning at the stake victims found guilty of heresy, witchcraft and sodomy. Surely we may also see, in the case of the blackening of Maria Mouton, a reference to her crime of cohabiting with slaves.”

** After another slaveowner was murdered later in the year, the chronicle laments that “crime is rapidly assuming large dimensions, in spite of the means used to prevent or suppress it. A clear proof that this Colony mainly consists of evil disposed, head-strong slaves and the refuse of convicts.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gallows Humor,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Milestones,Murder,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Sex,Slaves,South Africa,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1965: John Harris, white anti-apartheid martyr

10 comments April 1st, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1965, John Harris hanged in Pretoria Central Prison for an anti-apartheid bombing: the first and only white person put to death for political crimes in apartheid South Africa.

An idealistic young teacher, Harris planted a bomb in a whites-only section of Johannesburg’s Park Station, intending to demonstrate that whites, too, opposed racial segregation. But the bomb threat he phoned in was not acted upon, and the symbolic device killed a 77-year-old woman and badly burned many others.

5.30 am was the time set for the execution. We were all awake, thinking of John. Not long afterwards the phone rang. Ad Hain answered. The voice said: “Your John is dead.” She recognised the voice as one of the Special Branch men’s.

-John Harris’s widow’s testimony to the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission

His death (reportedly with “We Shall Overcome” on his lips) earned affecting tribute and flattering comparisons from his black countrymen.

Mr. Harris, a teacher and a member of the Liberal Party since 1960, is one of those few courageous White men in South Africa who believed passionately in racial equality, identified himself with the oppressed people and suffered persecution. His passport was seized in 1963. He was served with banning orders in February 1964 preventing him from continuing his work with the Liberal Party and the Non-racial Olympic Committee.

Like many others, he became convinced that there was no way left to influence the situation except by clandestine activity. When most of his colleagues in the underground organization, the African Resistance Movement, were jailed or fled the country, he tried to plan a spectacular demonstration. He placed a bomb in the Johannesburg station and telephoned the police so that the area would be cleared. The police did not act promptly and an elderly lady lost her life as a result of the explosion.

Under the prevailing circumstances in South Africa, the means of struggle are for the liberation movement to decide in the light of the conditions in the country.

The responsibility for the consequences lies very much on the rulers of Pretoria who, in defiance of the world and all sense of decency, created a situation which left no other alternative to decent people than to engage in violence.

In mourning the execution of Mr. Frederick John Harris, let me say that it will not be forgotten that in the struggle of the South African people this man, a member of the privileged group, gave his life because of his passionate belief in racial equality. This will serve to strengthen the faith of all those who fight against the danger of a “race war” and retain their faith that all human beings can live together in dignity irrespective of the colour of their skin.

I have recently received a message sent by him from his death cell in Pretoria Central Prison in January. He wrote:

“The support and warm sympathy of friends has been and is among my basic reinforcements. I daily appreciate the accuracy of the observation that when one really has to endure one relies ultimately on Reason and Courage. I’ve been fortunate in that the first has stood up — my ideals and beliefs have never faltered. As for the second, well, I’m not ashamed — I know I’ve shown at least a modicum of the second. ”

When I think of John Harris, the first White martyr in the cause of equality in South Africa, I am reminded powerfully of a great White American, a man who gave his life over a century ago — on December 2, 1859, to be exact — because of his passionate hatred of slavery: I mean John Brown.

People said then that John Brown was eccentric, that he was unwise in attacking the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and that his act would only strengthen the slave lords.

History has made a very different judgement. Whether the particular act of John Brown was right or wrong, wise or unwise, his cause was right and invincible.

-1965 statement on this date’s hanging by Achkar Marof

Harris’s conviction was secured with the states-evidence turn of one of his compatriots in the white anti-apartheid African Resistance Movement. For this betrayal, John Lloyd earned his freedom and had already moved to England by the time Harris was executed.

Lloyd built a public service life of his own in the UK. However, his bid for parliament on the Labour ticket in the 1990s was scotched when public exposure of his past (as (a) a leftist terrorist; and (b) a betrayer of his fellow-leftists) brought him more baggage than one man can tote in a general election.

Harris’s rough treatment under arrest also continues to haunt his former interrogators in South Africa.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Murder,South Africa,Terrorists

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Next Posts Previous Posts


Calendar

October 2019
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!